NCTE Historian Speech by NJCTE Board Member Joseph Pizzo

We at NCTE are people. People who form a Village through outreach, conferences, our website, and social media to discuss issues and challenges every day. Some issues are relatively new while others pose historically similar challenges. We are stories of teaching. We are resources, communities, and groups.

“NCTE amplifies the voice of educators through personal connection, collaboration, and a shared mission to improve the teaching and learning of English and language arts at all levels.” We continue to pursue this mission with serious commitment, undaunted determination, and a bit of creativity that combine to analyze problems and challenges, generate alternatives and solutions, and discover practical procedures to address these problems.  

Literacy continues to be an issue facing us educators at all levels of instruction and across all curricula. To the challenge to increase the frequency of and fluency when  reading, we add digital literacy challenged by a siren’s song broadcast on social media, online games, and streaming. Falling reading scores and the lack of preparation of students entering high school and college fails to consider the impact of some other powerful siren’s songs. Low status is given to reading in many modern households as daily activity schedules fill much of the time that was spent in the past for family reading and homework completion and review. Add poverty to this mix, and the recipe creates a daunting challenge requiring the commitment of all members of society, not simply the schools and NCTE. 

The issues of writing continue to be a challenge as social media outlets featuring acronyms such as “LOL,” “OMG,” and “IMHO” have placed style over substance and actual conversation. For those of us who in our youth never used the word “texting” as a gerund, “IMHO” means “In My Humble Opinion.” Texting is an effective way to communicate, but it must not replace actual conversation. “IMHO.” 

Issues of diversity continue to challenge us daily both at NCTE and throughout the nation. The emergence of LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual or Ally) poses problems of acceptance. These challenges are not dissimilar to the ones NCTE has faced courageously in the past when dealing with issues of prejudice according to nationality and gender. Some of these issues that led to racially-biased book banning in the past not only continue, but they also contain bans placed on literature that provides a voice to the LGBTQIA community. NCTE believes that tolerance is insufficient. Rather, acceptance must be mandated without exception.

William Faulkner states: “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asserts, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” For us at NCTE, silence “about things that matter” has never been an option.   

Moving forward, NCTE continues to revise its official positions in areas including advocacy, equity, and pedagogy. In the coming year, I hope to create a podcast to chat with our Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick and another to gain perspective on the challenges historically faced by our former NCTE Presidents. As our history proves, our commitment to amplifying “the voice of educators through personal connection, collaboration, and a shared mission to improve the teaching and learning of English and language arts at all levels,” will not be compromised in any way – ever. 

As we learn from the past and move into the future, we shall continue to serve as advocates for excellence while maintaining our commitment to improving “the teaching and learning of English and language arts at all levels.”

NCTE Historian Speech by NJCTE Board Member Joseph Pizzo

Innovative Ideas for Library and School Partnerships

By Gary Pankiewicz, Kate Nafz, and Elizabeth Portelli

There’s a natural inclination for partnership between public librarians and school district literacy educators–especially when the focus is lifelong reading motivation for our students.  Several years ago, the Fair Lawn School District and the Maurice M. Pine Fair Lawn Public Library in New Jersey met to join forces to support our students in a summer reading initiative. Our shared work continues to grow.  As a result, readership is up. Here are some easy-to-replicate collaborations to explore in your learning community.

Kindergarten and Grade 4 Library Field Trips 

Kindergarten students in Fair Lawn take a field trip to the Children’s Room in the public library for a library introduction, while Grade 4 students return for library instruction on library skills and participate in a scavenger hunt.  With two formalized trips facilitated by the Children’s Librarian built into our students’ literacy program, we insure that all of our students have public library cards and are aware of the services.  Fair Lawn has one of the highest library card ratios in the county.

District-Created Posters on Display in the Library

Navigating student reading levels in the public library is oftentimes a challenge.  Frankie Di Mitri, a district art teacher, created a poster in collaboration with district literacy coaches that is on display in the Children’s Room.  It helps to clarify the intention of using school reading levels as a tool without discouraging our students from aspiring to read the public library books they desire.

School Visits

The Young Adult Librarian visits middle school classrooms. These visits include interactive presentations with trivia and prizes–highlighting public library resources. The high participation rate in the lessons corresponds to increased adolescent library visits and use of library services.  Most recently, one of our middle school libraries is under construction, so public library support services have been pivotal. Lastly, there are plans in the works for some public librarian-driven minilessons to our students–so they are aware of how they could use their computers to access free eMaterials. This supports a district goal to enhance student information literacy.

Summer Reading 

By giving students the opportunity to choose their summer reading books, libraries become invaluable due to the volume of options and expert librarian guidance. The school district literacy team and several public librarians schedule a meeting each May to review the district expectations and to integrate library resources into the summer reading letters that are shared with students and parents.  In this case, the district also has an opportunity to highlight the public library’s summer programming at all levels.

Library-Sponsored Contests

The Friends of the Fair Lawn Library, a civic organization that runs through the library, facilitates reader-friendly contests at each level: an elementary bookmark decorating contest, a middle school blog contest, and high school scholarships. These programs show our shared love of reading and provide prizes such as digital reading devices and great books.

Various Galleries of Student Work

The school displays art work and student learning outcomes. This provides a greater audience for our students’ work and brings families to the library where they can take out materials.

Expert Advice and Collaboration on library book orders

New this year, we are joining forces to collaborate on book weeding, displays, and new orders. As a specific example, the school district finds that students are reading at higher reading levels in lower and lower grade levels. In this case, the children’s librarian is helping the school district locate books with higher reading levels with more age-appropriate themes for younger readers.

Again, reading is up! We are proud of our school district and public library partnership in Fair Lawn, NJ.

Author Bios:

  • Gary Pankiewicz is the K-12 Language Arts and Literacy Supervisor in the Fair Lawn, New Jersey, School District. He recently earned his Ph.D. at Montclair State University, where he also works as an adjunct professor in the Literacy Education and Writing Studies Departments. Twitter: @gpankiewicz
  • Kate Nafz earned her MLS degree from SUNY Albany and has been head of Children’s Services at the Fair Lawn Library for twenty-five years. Follow her blog KateOnKidsBooks for reviews on new elementary and middle school books.
  • Elizabeth Portelli is a Reference and Young Adult Librarian at the Maurice M. Pine Free Public Library in Fair Lawn, NJ. Her blog can be found at


Innovative Ideas for Library and School Partnerships

Register Now for Technology Webinar with Katie Nieves — Dec. 3

Join us on December 3rd at 7:00 PM for our third NJCTE technology webinar. You get to decide which technology tool(s) you want to discover. Based on feedback and suggestions from our previous webinars, vote for the topic that excites you the most. The topic will be announced a few days before the webinar.

Free for NJCTE members! $5 for non-NJCTE members.

Register now!

Attention NJ ELA teachers: Would you like to write for the NJCTE blog? We would be happy to publish your ideas and insights about your practice or resources you’ve had success with, etc. We welcome original pieces or those that have been posted elsewhere. Please send queries and contributions to

Register Now for Technology Webinar with Katie Nieves — Dec. 3